Saving Seeds: Is this the way to go?

Through most of the world's history, people have saved their own seeds and replanted them. Now we have a multitude of hybrid seed to choose from. These hybrid seed have a lot of advantages-crops are very uniform, so they are easily harvested, and all mature at the same time. The crops generally have a very good yield, especially when adequate fertilizer is used, sufficient water is available (often through irrigation), and pests are kept under control.

But over the very long term, it is not entirely clear that we will be able to keep up this system. We likely won't have the commercial fertilizer, nearly as much irrigation, and probably not chemical pesticides and herbicides. We are likely not to be able to store the food as well, either, or to transport it long distances.

In the new circumstances, it probably would be better to have more of a diversity of types of crops planted, because this would give more redundancy, if the weather happened to be bad for one crop, or insects or disease attacked one seed. It would probably be best not to plant the crops in a "monoculture", because this would give pests an easier time to get a foothold, and perhaps wipe out the entire crop.

It probably would also be best to have crops maturing over a long period, because this would cut down on storage needs. It might be best if the seeds have some genetic variety to them, because this would make them more adaptable. So what should we be doing now?

What would it take to start saving seed for a new system?

I really haven't looked into this adequately to figure out for certain. It probably would not be desirable to save hybrid seed, because these do not breed true, and some of the seeds of hybrid plants are not fertile. But if we just wait until our current industrial agriculture system starts unwinding, and need seeds from somewhere, it seems like the vast majority of seeds available will be hybrids, and we will be forced to plant offspring of hybrid seed, for lack of any other source of seed.

A much better source of seed would be seed from companies that sell heirloom seeds or open-pollinated seeds. There are also companies selling organic seeds. Some of the organic seeds seem to be open-pollinated as well, but I am not certain whether all of them are. Some may be hybrids, but raised without chemicals. Perhaps someone can explain this.

If one does raise plants from seed, and save them, the next question is how much care one needs to take to see that the seeds do not cross pollinate with hybrids planted near by. Some types of plants (Beans, Chicory, Endive, Lettuce, Peas, and Tomatoes) are self-pollinating, so this would not be an issue. But with other types of plants, cross-pollination with nearby hybrids likely would be.

Seed companies take great care to protect their seeds from unwanted pollen. One then has to get the desired pollen to the plants. One web site I visited talked about using a small brush to transfer pollen from one plant to another. This sounds like a huge amount of work! Somehow, it is hard to see most people doing this long term.

There are a lot of details that one needs to be aware of, that vary with the type of seed being saved. For example, vegetables often need to be very ripe--much riper than when we eat them--for the seeds to properly sprout. So if one is going to do this, a person needs to do some homework for the particular type of seed. It is also important to store the seeds in the correct way. There are details, too, such as disease transmission through seeds that can be a problem. So saving seed is not a "slam dunk".

Discussion Questions

1. How important is it that we start thinking about this question now, rather than when industrial agriculture starts having problems?

2. What experiences do people have with seed saving?

3. Are there any particularly good resources that people can recommend in this area?

4. How does one avoid problems with pollination with hybrids?

5. Are there any particular issues we should be aware of with grains? I have heard that nearly all corn is hybrid, for example.

6. It is quite possible that yields will be lower, with non-hybrid seed. Should this deter us from studying the issue, and developing greater supplies of open-pollinated seeds suited to particular areas of the country?

Suzanne Ashworth's "Seed to Seed," is probably the definitive how to book. I'm saving Minnesota Midget muskmelon. I can do that because nobody else in the neighborhood was growing anything that would cross with it. And it is very easy to process. I'm also saving gardeners' delight cherry tomatoes, because they are almost exclusively self pollinating. At the small scale that I do gardening, I'm going to continue to rely on outside sources for most of my seed.

Saving seeds is not particularly hard, one just has to do it! Most of the old reliable varieties are open-pollinated, and fairly easy to work with- Black Seeded Simpson lettuce, Detroit Red Beets, Red Russian kale- all good examples. If you grow chives, you will easily get seeds every year.

Short growing seasons (think Alaska, for example) may not give enough time for the plant to fully ripen seeds. Space must be left in the garden to fully mature the plants, usually a minimum of 4 or 5, set aside for seed for each variety you are saving. This means you will not eat the plant in that part of the space, and it cuts down on your yield.

If you wish to breed true individual varieties, distance between each variety of the same kind of plant (different kinds of squash, or lettuce, or kale) must be observed.

Seed saving is a natural for community cooperation; each family growing some kinds and swapping seeds in the winter for other varieties.

Like any activity, saving seed is not hard, but it does have lots to know about it. Start ASAP- there is a learning curve!

I think this issue needs a few careful distinctions in place.

Firstly the different demands of staple field crops versus vegetables needs to be made. Staple crops (grains, dried legumes, starchy tubers) should be well enough adapted to your conditions that they can grow in ordinary soil during an average season without irrigation and with minimal or no fertiliser to yield a crop that is energetically profitable (EROI proxy of one days worth of work preparing, planting, maintaining, harvesting and cooking to give five to ten days worth of food supply). Selecting the highest yielding variety here isn't always the biggest priority. High yielding strains usually demand more fertiliser or water, and tend to sulk when they don't get them. You want to match the productivity of your soil and climate to the demands of the plants you grow. That coupled with traits that mean the crop actually ends up on your plate (for example my maize variety trials soon revealed which ones were easy for the parrots to rip open and those that were wrapped up tight).

Vegetables on the other hand are a different thing altogether. They are used to convert concentrated wastes (manure specifically, human or animal) and usually a reliable water source into a high quality source of nutrients and flavor. Starchy roots cross the boundary into this group.

For subsistence agriculture you can get by without vegetables. If you don't have a pre-existing supply of concentrated nutrient wastes then growing vegetables is much like Mary Antoinette among the milk maids (but now for the is that for history not repeating but rhyming?). If you are relying on a truck to bring your manure and a hose to bring you water then you are not producing much overall. For staple crops if you don't have a largish area then you will be working for a handful of beans. I would encourage anyone to do either of these things but they should not imagine they are anything more than interesting hobbies that have the potential to be useful later on.

Ok...enough on that point. Now for the main show of seed saving.

Firstly- the whole heritage/open pollinated/hybrid story is a bit of a smoke screen by different sets of self interested parties who all have a product to sell. Kind of like republican and democrats, or coke and pepsi. Two brands of essentially the same product. The truth is that the plants have no idea what specific labels have been attached to them. A person growing their own food has the simple priority of finding plants that produce a reliable and useful crop under their specific conditions.

Heritage and open pollinated varieties can have serious drawbacks. No vegetable variety magically maintains its qualities over the generations. Without careful selection the old fashioned varieties can quickly become nothing like their ancestors (especially if they suffer inbreeding). Modern hybrids supposedly don't come true from seed. But often they do, or their offspring turn out good enough so long as it is selected properly from generation to generation.

The important truth? You won't ever know what a seed will do until you plant it, tend it, harvest it and eat it. There are no guarantees in life, especially in gardening.

The solution? If you want to grow tomatoes then get your hands on a wide array of tomato seeds. Grow them all side by side for a year. Don't be surprised if a large chunk of the packets turn out to have dead or weak seed in them. Save the seed from the best ones and do it again next year to check for reliability. My own experience with doing this across many crops is a ten fold variation in productivity under identical conditions. Most of my crops during trial years ends up coming from a handful of plants.

The complication? Some crops like tomatoes, beans and lettuce self pollinate. The idea of them being sold as "open pollinated" is ludicrous. So you can grow as many varieties as you want and the seed will be relatively consistent. For the sex mad outcrossing varieties (like corn and cucumbers) you have bigger problems. If you trial twenty varieties and save seed you will get a big mixture. This can be a good thing if you save seed from the best plants- that way all next years seed is at least half derived from strong plants. The "weak" plants contribution may seem like a problem, but it might also give a lot of hidden benefits. You will have to keep selecting the best plants every year. And you need a level of diversity in your outcrossing crop to prevent inbreeding.

The next problem with open pollinated crops is that your neighbors need to grow similar strains if you don't want to end up with the risk of unproductive hybrids cropping up. Again a balance between diversity and conformity/productivity has to be found.

And the final problem is that you absolutely need your neighbors to be growing similar but not identical strains. Out breeding crops suffer from inbreeding depression when they are continuously bred from small populations (just like people and pandas). A single grower can never have enough cucumbers or watermelons for example for their own consumption to maintain a healthy breeding population. You need neighbors to swap pollen with (via bees) or seeds with. This is how different regions ended up with their own characteristic (but diverse) varieties of many crops. The alternative is one farmer with acres of watermelons.

A final point would be that a lot of very useful subsistence crops are starchy roots and these are mostly grown vegetatively from cuttings and tubers. With these seed saving and coming true isn't an issue, though accumulation of viruses and disease is (another kettle of fish)


A final point would be that a lot of very useful subsistence crops are starchy roots and these are mostly grown vegetatively from cuttings and tubers. With these seed saving and coming true isn't an issue, though accumulation of viruses and disease is (another kettle of fish)

And its a big kettle of fish because lots of folks got potatoes in mind if times get hard. You can grows lots of calories with a shovel and not much area. After about 12 years or so you end up with these little gnarly diseased things instead of big plump tubers. Providers of seed potatoes take cuttings from fast growing tips and grow them in a concoction that has a growth hormone till they sprout roots, and then transplant them into fumigated beds.

Or ... the low tech traditional way is to grow the tubers for seeds at high altitude - in the UK we use Scottish seed potatoes 'cos that's where our high ground is.

Thanks for your insights--they are helpful.

Bravo on your vegetables vs staple crop distinction.

Whenever I hear somebody talk about feeding themselves by growing vegetables I ask them to go to their pantry and start stacking up cans of vegetables like green beans, tomato sauce and peas until they get 1500 calories (a minimum amount for weight maintenance)

Once that heap of cans is piled up, imagine eating it. Every day.

Then pile up 1500 calories of bread, potatoes and oatmeal. Much more manageable and digestable.

We should be talking about saving seeds like wheat, barley, oats and rice. And potatoes and yams...

Once that heap of cans is piled up, imagine eating it. Every day.

Its mostly water, dried vegetables are as calorie dense as grains. Going to always need plenty of vegetables, seeds and tubers are too low in several essential nutrients. A pound of wheat has about 40 IU of vitamin A, RDA is 3000.


Your point is well made and cannot be overemphasized in the event of actual food shortages.
But most of the readership (my personal guess) is more focused for the moment on vegetables as they are not only much more expensive than staples but also well suited to very small scale production -not to mention also much tastier if you grow your own.

If staples(or money to buy them !) such as as you mention are ever in short supply a gardener experienced with veggies can easily add these crops to her garden ,space permitting.

I suggest that most folks who might find themselves in this situation go first for ordinary potatos , sweet potatos, and field corn if local conditions are favorable as these crops are much easier to deal with , especially in terms of yield and harvest,when working by hand on a small scale.Then experiment with wheat ,oats,sunflowers,soybeans, etc as space permits.Some people might even be able to grow a small amount of rice if they live in the south and have some suitable ground.

If there is space available for fruit and nut trees by all means they should be planted aas soon as possible.

I find this post really confusing, particularly the bits about hybrid crops and true breeding. If you want genetic diversity in your crops, and you want to avoid inbred monocultures, why are you so concerned about hybrids and cross-pollination? If you have genetic diversity in an organism, by definition it's not going to be "true breeding". Outbred organisms are almost without exception more robust and resistant to disease and environmental challenge (if not at the individual level then at the population level). I'm not a plant biologist but I would imagine this to be of particular concern in areas that will experience climate or environmental change. If the temperature in your growing area increases by a couple degrees or the soil salinity goes up a few percent, you don't want an inbred population that all has the same temperature and salinity tolerances, you want an outbred population that has some individuals who will perform well under the new conditions. Inbred populations are good where you need consistency- ie experimental work, industrial applications, static environments, etc. If you want robustness, though, and that seems to be the order of the day if the shit hits the fan and we all really need to start planting crops, you probably want outbred populations, so I wouldn't be super worried about constraining pollination opportunities. Again, I'm not a plant biologist, so I'm not sure that I'm understanding what's being said correctly!

I am sure I didn't explain the situation well.

Back in the "good old days", the plants that grew in the area would all be reasonably well adapted to the area. They would cross with one another, and you would get new, slightly different varieties, most of which would be reasonably well adapted to the area.

Now we have plant breeders who are doing very fancy things. Many of the hybrids are just plain sterile. These plants won't cross-pollinate with anything, so that is not a real issue. But if, say, you want to grow more avocados, and all the trees in your areas are sterile, it could be a problem (unless you propagate "vegetatively", and get only plants of the same type precisely).

The offspring of hybrids that aren't sterile can yield strange results, as I understand it. It may be that the hybrid is an eight way hybrid, and what one is getting is just one of the varieties in the mix. It might have been chosen for some particular characteristic (say, fruit that travels well), and not have other characteristics one might want, like cold hardiness. It might not be at all well adapted to the particular area's climate.

So you probably don't want your seed crossing with the offspring of hybrids, unless you have some confidence the hybrid offspring are fairly well-behaved. I don't have enough experience in this area to know how much of an issue it is. Even if it is not a problem for some plants, if the you are depending on a particular crop to feed your family, and it fails because the new cross is not adapted to your area, you could be pretty upset.

Thanks for the reply. In this case then, does "hybrid" refer to inter-species hybrids?

No, I think the hybrids are within the same species. It is just that the company producing the hybrids are likely crossing combinations that have a real mix of characteristics in the various parents or grandparents --quite a few of which are undesirable - bad taste, poor tolerance for heat or cold, weak stems, poor insect toleration. You might happen to get these characteristics in the new plants that grow, even though the hybrid seed was selected so these characteristics didn't appear in that generation. If the pollen were from a more stable variety that grew well in your area, you would have a better chance of getting a variety you would want.

If you want genetic diversity quickly, cross an F1 hybrid with something else, you will get all sorts of plants. Grow them on to maturity, you will soon see which one's are suitable for your area. Don't assume heritage seeds will be better.

The same technique also works with farm animals, if you cross a hybrid hen bred for egglaying with a traditional cockerel you will get a non-uniform brood with different feather colours, colour of eggs, number of eggs per year etc - you also get a lot of useless cockerels 'cos there's little meat on them and they are always fighting, such is life!

It would take a long time to answer your very reasonable questions properly.
I'll give this what the old folks called a "lick and a promise".

Certain assumptions are generally made and accepted in regards to saving open pollinated seeds.

One is that the environment is fairly stable-which is reasonable on the time scale of a farmer or gardener-you normally see the same pests year after year,the same rainfall ,temperature etc, within reasonable limits.

Therefore you do not really need a great deal of genetic variation from one year to the next.Buying some seed , borrowing some , saving some from purchased crops-perhaps purchased for the express purpose of getting the seeds-works fairly well.

I suppose this is just another way of saying once you have seed optimized for local conditions additional variability is actually not in your short term interest.

But this model is not so good any more due to the fact that people travel so much and various new diseases and pests are therefore constantly popping up.Otoh,this will also make it easy to get seed that prove resistant to any given bug or disease much more easily-you can buy both hybrid and open pollinated varieties of seeds that are resistant to a greater or lesser degree to various pests and diseases.If you are having a particular disease problem you are much more likely to find a hybrid variety that will have good resistance that a true breeding or open pollinated line however.

Bottom line-it is very good to grow several varieties of open pollinated crops in any given area so growers can exchange seed as problems arise.This also helps spread out harvest times,which is a big plus, and creates a little more dietary variety-apples are apples in one sense , but if you have no money for winter peaches, pears ,oranges, etc ,then having five or six varieties of apples in your little orchard can make life infinitely more bearable-our earliest apples ripen in late June, and our latest in October-and that variety-the limbertwig-is still enjoyable as a snack at the end of March if kept in a root cellar.

Hybrid crop seed are generally cross bred three generations or so and the first couple of generations produce crops that are nearly worthless as finished product.But the third generation brings out the hybrid vigor by putting just the right combination of genes together- lots of them are recessives,and fertility is a big question mark-use these for seeds and you will get lots of plants with "birth defects".

It's been so long since I 've been in a biology class I've forgotten the proper way to explain this but you take a various bunch of foundation lines, breed a generation or two of ugly ducklings, and the next generation comes out swans.But the swans are no good as parents.

You could theoritically back breed from your hypothetical hybrid seed and eventually recover or regenerate a good foundation variety or two but it would be a waste of time and money-it would be much easier to just get some seed from a nieghbor or store.

With the environmental situation being what it is today we need to preserve as many varieties and as much variability as we possibly can-probably the best way is thru organized seed banks run by govt agencies such as agricultural research farms or biology laboratories.

Variety is GOOD-but too much variety in a given garden in a given year is BAD-the whole point in domesticating the crop in the first place is to prune it's genome to make it grow to suit OUR purposes.This necessarily means some tradeoffs-greater susceptibility to some pests or less drought resistance , etc, for increased yield, larger fruit, less variation in days to maturity,etc. In some cases you want less variation-if you grow beans for market you want to pick them ,ship them and be done with that field and move your machinery and laborers to the next field which ripens a few days later.

In a home garden you might want beans that have an extended harvest season-you can afford to go over the same ground several times to harvest small quantities for personal use.

Lots of serious country gardeners such as my grandparents used to grow two or three varieties of half a dozen different crops so as to have something ready all the time both for the table and to put up between other jobs.

I don't think we will have to give up hybrid crops unless the economy really goes to hell in a hand basket-they have so many advantages it will be worth expending very scarce resources to keep them avaliable.

But it would be utterly and totally foolish not to preserve the open pollinated varieties we have now as well as develop some new ones.

My personal solution is to grow some local open pollinated varieties that have been passed down thru the generations every year-enough that if tshtf we will have seed to plant regardless of what happens.

Edit: everything Gail has added while I wrote my comment is basically correct.this is all painting fast with a broad brush and there are lots of exceptions and qualifications that could be added if writing a longer piece.

Very interesting. Thanks to both you and Gail for the elaboration, the issues at hand are much more clear now.

As usual, I agree heartily with OFM on almost everything. One quibble (and indeed it is a quibble) is that having hybrids around can introduce the ugly ducklings into the gene pool again. We had hybrid tomato plants in one bed, with two coming up the next year from their seeds. I let them continue just to see what they would produce. One produced a very pale yellow tomato with absolutely no taste whatsoever. I doubt it had much nutritional value, and if it had crossed with an open pollinated tomato, I have reason to suspect that it would likely dilute the viability and nutritional value of any progeny. Another was completely fruitless, with even less promise.

Besides, hybrid seeds are in the control of large agricorps that seek to keep gardeners addicted to their products, so that alone is enough for me to seek elsewhere.

When in graduate school I took a class with a very famous (in his field) population biologist. I still recall a fascinating discussion we had about the genetics of hybrids vs. open pollinated cultivars. He explained that hybrids were created for control by the seed companies. They may offer some advantage in consistency of growth, but in terms of yields and disease resistance, etc. they are no better than open pollinated varieties.

The genetics is complex. When geneticists talk about genetic variation or diversity they specify at what level of organization is being measured. You can have variation within individuals (e.g., different alleles on sister chromosomes) within populations (e.g., among individuals) and between populations (e.g., regional differences).

We need plant breeding back in the public domain so that selection on open pollinated varieties is done and the seeds can be saved without breaking the law. As it is now, the USDA and universities often give away their breeding stock to companies which then patent the products.


There is a huge amont of truth at the core of your comment.

My personal opinion is that our current patent laws are one of the worst possible examples of the public getting screwed by a defacto coalition of biz biz and big govt-the govt is protecting big biz from the citizenry rather than the other way around.

This is especially true in agriculture and I believe it is also true in medicine.

This having been said your biologist must not have been too well acquainted with on the farm realities.

No doubt the early pioneers in commercial hybrid seed production and marketing , or at least the ones with the biggest imaginations, envisioned something on the order of todays bau scenario.

But even the most ignorant farmer can keep track of his time and money and the fact is that we have , from a bau pov , had too many farmers ever since the mechanization of the farms started.

Hybrid crops offer many advantages in terms of uniformity of plant size, harvest date, and yield and from the earliest days (or at least as far back as my personal knowledge extends)it has generally been more profitable to buyt the seed fertilizer and pesticides than not.

And hybrids do outyield open pollinated lines under typical commercial conditions by a big margin.

Of course in the end this has played out to the benefit of big biz rather than the farmer but it cannot be denied that the consumer has also enjoyed cheap and plentiful food.

We have fewer and fewer individual farmers growing more and more and earning less and less.

But once the process was underway it achieved a more or less unstoppable momentum-crops better suited to mechanized production led to machinery adapted to the crops and the crops and machines have evolved together as the on farm labor per bushel or pound of production have steadily fallen.

The consumer rejected the older varieties at market-whole orchards in thier prime, including some that belonged to my family, were cut down and replanted in this area because the housewife ,influenced by everybody from the home extension service to Washington state apple ad campaigns insisted on Barbie apples rather than plain jane apples that actually tasted and stored better and cost less.(A barbie apple is the equivalent of a barbie girl-eye candy)

Big bakers wanted tailor made flour -and hybrid wheat made it possible.

A farmer growing beans can use hybrid seed and move his combine from one field to the next about as regularly as clockwork, keeping that 300 grand busy for a lot more weeks and leaving fewer beans on the ground.

So all this stuff has blown up into a perfect storm of converging circumstance and trends and I suppose our agricultural ship will certainly wind up on the rocks eventually.

Farming and agribiz is generally in about the same shape as the rest of the economy-committed to an unsustainable path with individual practicioners unable to get off the treadmill.

Of course there is a small but encouraging movement back toward small individual farms but it remains to be seen imo if it will last-it depends as much as anything on the consumer being willing to pay premium prices for food that is locally produced.Falling incomes may put finis to the movement-or the collapse of the bau paradigm may result in local food being the cheaper or maybe the only option.

I believe the point my population genetics professor was making is that once you start going down the path of selecting hybrids for yields you will get that outcome. However, you could take the path of selecting non-hybrids for yields and get the same outcome, but since that path was not taken we have hierloom varieties to work with that haven't benefited from decades of breeding.


This interpretation sounds very reasonable to me.

Certainly the old hierlooms could have been improved to a great extent, achieving yields equal to hybrids after a time-but if you hybridized the IMPROVED hierlooms you would still get a hybrid vigor effect.This would probably work out to the hybrids being forever a little or maybe a lot ahead of the hierlooms at any given point in time.

My personal opinion is that if gene patents are allowed at all they should be be strictly limited to a five or maybe ten year maximum period and that new varieties produced at public expense should be open sourced-available to anybody who wants to produce them at market prices-meaning no rent from the patent.

But I don't see much happening in terms of changing current patent laws-the issue isn't even on the public radar, given the economic crisis.

But miracles have happened before and maybe one of these days we will have a political house cleaning-let's just hope we can manage it without the guillotine and the firing squad.

Will ,
Undesired crosses are a problem sure enough -and if you are gardening in a limited space you may have to just stick with your old time or personal cultivar and forgo hybrids.

In my nieghborhood and extended family we can easily grow both types without many problems because we mostly have lots of acreage-it's easy to maintain several smaller gardens and is actually the preferred method as this is a great help in controlling various pests and blights.

There is lot of gifting and trading of seed from farm to farm and family to family but sadly the old crop lines are steadily being lost around here- farmers can't make any money on them and the number of farmers is declining fast-there are only two younger guys in my family who still farm as thier primary occupation although there are still a lot of semiretired or retired older guys.

Most of the younger folk are not interested in a serious garden and couldn't have one at home anyway-they have mostly bought houses lacking an adequate amount of space in spots where it just isn't feasible to garden in the front lawn.Thier backyards are typically fully taken up with basketball goals, automobiles,bbq cookers, wading pools and shade trees and they will not give these things up.

So if they have a garden at all it's likely to be only a few hundred square feet and consist of tomatos, sweet peppers, and a couple other high yield high price easy to grow vegetables.Of course an enthusiastic and determined gardener can do a lot woth five hundred square feet but nearly everybody here nowadays takes the view that they can just buy the stuff in season at a local farm retail stand faster and cheaper than they can grow thier own, opting to work a few extra hours rather than garden.

And this is certainly true to a large extent-we used to grow enough sweet corn to sell some-enough to pay for the expendables at least- and freeze as much as we could eat but nowadays we grow just a small patch of early corn for our personal table-there's a guy who grows ten acres right on the way to town and he sells it so cheap by the dozen that I'm far better off in terms of time and money to buy our freezer corn from him.He also has all sorts of local and shipped produce in season at about half the typical supermarket price and sometimes even a third the price if you will by a full bag or box.

We bought a full bag of onions last week for thirtyfive cents on the dollar of the Walmart per pound price for the same size type and quality.

I expect with the economy in the dumps the way it is now that there will be a big time return to gardening on the part of quite a few people around here next year as they come to realize that thier jobs are gone for good.There is certainly plenty of suitable land available that can be rented for a pittance or a very modest portion of whatever is grown and lots of folks like us with a tractor that will plow and disk an acre for the price of renting a heavy duty tiller for a day.

I've also noticed that small critters, presumably mice, can gnaw through foil seed packets. I'm experimenting with what I call 'pot luck' patches in damp peaty soil below an earth dam. In it I roughly plant several types of plant material that would otherwise be discarded. These include woody stems that have gone to seed (turnip, beetroot, celery), peelings that sprout in the compost heap (potato, onion), fruit stones (apple, nectarine) that germinate in compost and sections of plant clusters that have been divided (strawberry, rhubarb). Whether these varieties live or die, inhibit or assist each other or remain dormant for years matters little since they only took a few minutes to plant. Hence the 'pot luck' garden.

Google "Millenium Seed Bank Project"

Kew Gardens / Royal Horticultural Society is one of the few things that Britain can still be proud of. The work they are doing is awesome. If you ever find yourself in west London with nothing to do I highly recommend a visit to Kew Gardens. You won't be dissapointed.

I grew up in England, and lived in Hampton part of the time. I went to Kew quite often - one of my most favorite places! Last time I visited was 1997. I recently found a book of Marianne North's paintings online. Amazing attention to detail.
I lived in South Africa too, and walking through the S. Africa exhibit at Kew smelled just like the real thing ;) Aloes and Ericas...
I'm glad to see they are saving seeds.

A really good resource is
The Seed Savers Exchange has been around since 1975 and offer for sale a tremendous variety - from grains and vegetables to flowers and even cattle (qualified buyers only)! They sell books and have a heritage farm where they grow their seeds in Iowa that you can visit. They are located in Northeastern Iowa. I got their catalog at the Illinois Renewable energy fair this year and it is terrific.

I always buy heirloom varieties, and order them every year, since I don't have a lot of space. Google will take you to good sources. You can get land-race corn varieties too (non hybrid).

I shop here :-

They have great variety and often put a gift in the order too.

For grains I use

I find seeds store for quite a few years in the pantry - I have seeds from 2006 that germinate just fine. I've seen suggestions to store them in a cool place with a silica drying sachet. I read also somewhere that you shouldn't store seeds in plastic - prevents them germinating.

What I find interesting is to try several different varieties, tomatoes as an example, as some seem to do better than others in my location, and it's often trial-and-error.

Once you have settled on varieties you like, you can then save seeds each year to replant. I get enough lettuce seeds every year, as an example, to grow for the entire season.

Different heirlooms do have to be planted some distance apart e.g. tomatoes need at least 10 feet, iirc, in order to prevent cross-pollination. You want to breed true to type, since you aren't going to know which charateristics of the hybrid will show up in the next generation if there is a cross. This is the problem with trying to plant seeds from hybrid, store-bought produce - the plant you get may look nothing like the parent.

The way to select for improvement to local conditions is to allow the plant/s with the best fruit/best leaves/best adaptation to the local area to form seeds and save those. It is always tempting to eat the best tomato, but that's the fruit you want to be saving.

The way to select for improvement to local conditions is to allow the plant/s with the best fruit/best leaves/best adaptation to the local area to form seeds and save those.

Yes; it is a constant effort. One must continually select to improve - and those improvements may relate only to one's own microclimate. At a seed saving workshop I attended one of the instructors told a story how a farmer outside NYC got every strain of parsnip he could from USDA seed banks, mixed them, then selected over time for what grew best at his place. Those he trucks to fancy restaurants in NYC. They are probably a F10 or so hybrid by now - if not more. At that same workshop we sampled a range of F5+ melons from UMaine's Highmoor farm. By constant selection those melons adapt better and better. They are a total flop here at my place. :-(

One practical thing I've not seen mentioned. Label, label, label and document. The 2009 Prudens tomato I keep separate from the 2008 and so on. One can get a random outcrossing - good or bad. And it's way too easy to forget what one has. Just today I'm cleaning a bunch of seeds; there are maybe 25 kinds drying on racks in my living room.

Commercial seed fails too. The Schoon's Melon I grew this year was clearly crossed. Almost every melon different. But it grew well, so from that unknown hybrid I'm growing my own local melon. Selecting from the best.

One doesn't want to grow just one variety of anything. That potato grew really well this year, this one did not, etc.... But you have to grow out enough for reproduction.

Seeds are not stable. One must constantly select for the best.

cfm, the growlery, gray, me

I heard my first Survival Seed Bank commercial today. It was on a radio show hosted by a talker who is likely the loudest oil cornucopian in the world. Apparently, the sponsors and talkers do not talk much.

There are a few sites debating whether the bank is a scam.

Been saving seeds for several decades mostly from varieties grown when i was young. It's really very simple. Have planted lots of varieties and identified about a dozen of each of spring, summer, fall, and winter varieties of vegetables, herbs, and soil builders that consistently produce without fertilizer, pesticides, or herbicides. Remember soil preparation is key.

Suggest you locate local elderly gardeners and discuss varieties with them. Most are honored to share the info with you and even the seeds or cuttings. Old folks like the conversation and will willingly share their information and seeds. This part is easy. Its the soil you need to be concerned about. Suggest the following site. Very important to learn how to work with nature. Petroleum run machines are not going to be around forever. But it takes time. Get off the computer and spend some time every day preparing the soil. You don't need a fancy com poster or machines. Just put everything organic back on the soil. I am amazed by some of the very intelligent folks on this site who seem to post most hours of the day. Get off your ass and get your hands dirty! Learn about the soil. It might just get you through the first bottleneck that is before us. Course then there will be a second, third,... good luck.

Fukuoka's "One Straw Revolution" is available on Amazon for US$10.85. One thing he talks about is how commercial plant and fertilizer companies and government agencies conspire to stick the grower in a non-returnable position where the soil is dead except for the commercial fertilizer and heirloom plants can hardly grow there. He was getting high end yields for two mixed crops with minimum (no till) work and straw. He went to a meeting and the government agent told him to be quiet, that he could not add anything important to the discussion though he was out growing most of the farmers there with his straw revolution. Also, those interested in Zen, will understand a lot more about Zen from him than most other references.

Our soil here in the high desert is terrible. I incorporated over a ton of sheep manure (from a friend who raises sheep) and several bags of peat moss into 400 sq ft of raised beds. It was a hard job to “Double dig” the 12 X4 foot beds. We must irrigate since we had no measurable rain from June till now. It takes about 80 gallons per day from our well. The crop of everything we planted was excellent. Five varieties of tomatoes, asparagus, cucumbers, zucchini, strawberries, Yukon Gold potatoes, two varieties of carrots, various radishes, two varieties of onions and three different squashes. It frosted last week and four nights since and all the above ground vegetables have been harvested. We have over 20 quarts of tomatoes, 20+ loaves of zucchini bread in the freezer, several baggies of dried veggies from the solar drier, and a room full of other veggies. We ate more stuffed Zucchini from 20” 4# fruit than you can imagine. We also gave much away to friends and neighbors. This was just our first garden; I call it our prototype garden to learn how. We tried seeds, sets, and plants. They all grow differently and there are many books on the various subjects.

Next year we will put in 50 12X4 beds for a community garden in a pasture we don’t use. Many of the things we will plant next year will be heirloom and we will start the procedure(s) described above to arrive at a sustainable garden even without the grid electricity. The solar powered golf cart can run the pump, hand & fixed tools and a lot more.

After taking a hard look at our current food system and its vulnerabilities, I started growing a small garden using open pollinated seed that I save selectively from year to year. By doing this I adapt a crop to local conditions. The second year's harvest is often better than the first. I saving "easier" sorts of seeds at this point, but I did research saving all kinds of seed and put together a guide on Seed Saving for Community Food Security.

The first part is an introduction to seed saving for community food security, and the second part details seed saving methods and planting considerations for all sorts of garden crops and some grains. An appendix lists sources for seed. Anyone is free to download and utilize this document under a Creative Commons License. It's meant for sharing as widely as possible.

A PDF version can be downloaded here: .

A Word version suitable for editing as needed can be downloaded here: .

I'm learning lots more about selective seed saving from Carol Deppe's Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties: The Gardener's and Farmer's Guide to Plant Breeding and Seed Saving. I highly recommend it even if all you plan to do is save seed from your own garden from year to year.

I second your post, Deppe's book has opened a whole new realm to my gardening experiences.

I've wondered if its feasible to select Queen Anne's Lace into a viable garden carrot in a reasonable amount of time. Its hardy enough to be a noxious weed in my area, I suppose continual cross pollination from the feral ones would be a problem.

Its Daucus carota, garden carrot is a subspecies Daucus carota sativus. I've made good use of seeds from feral Brassica juncea (mustard), it grows to usable size in the garden with competition removed and is more pest resistant than other Brassicas like Cabbage.

Hi Barrett

I would be very careful about about using seed from QAL. All Umbelliferae (now renamed but I can't remember to what) are highly promiscuous, and if you have any Hemlock growing in the area you could end up with some unpleasant results. Socrates had some problems, as I recall.

If you want to experiment in this line, I would suggest that you get a good "Brassica cage" for your flowering plants, use only two species at a time, and keep excellent records of your experiments. And update your will!! :))


That problem isn't peculiar to QAL, if you were saving seed from garden carrots it would be too. I suspect hemlock and carrot aren't interfertile. The lineage of the naturalized QAL in the US is a little foggy. It was brought by the early settlers from Europe, but its unclear (at least to me) if they brought the wild variety for use as a herb, or brought garden carrots to eat and they went feral. So if the latter is true QAL in the US would be a descendant of garden carrots as opposed to an ancestor.

I believe the edible one and poisonous look-alike are only slightly different in appearance.


One has the tiny black spot on the flowerhead... the other one doesn't... not sure which is which at the moment.

That's QAL with the black dot. The foilage of the hemlock is a little more fernlike in appearance. There are similarities, but the two are easily distinguishable, but of course a lack of familiarity with the two could be a problem if one were collect some QAL for some carrot cake.

I've been doing heirloom seeds for a number of years on my little farm. I view them as part of the "powerdown" scenario - will it be possible to acquire (supposedly) vastly superior hybrid seeds when we are forced to use say 75,50,25,10,5 percent of the liquid fuels that we currently consume? I have no idea, the sealed greenhouse environments for making hybrids look energy intensive to me.
While I have collected and reused seeds from these heirlooms, I am not quite confident with the (potential) cross pollination and other issues to cut myself off from a professional group like and others already mentioned. This year is actually the
first time I tried an heirloom corn type and saved the seeds for next year, though I intend to use them only in about a 1/4 of my planting (save the big kernels, I learned that from watching "Planet of the Apes" in the 60s!) Gardening and farming is a skill, it takes some amount of time to be a consistent producer with a mixture of vegetables for your specific land, your general "zone", the seeds that you've chosen, and the specifics of your soil, which can change in 50 feet based on hill top/bottom, or as with my 60 acre farm, where the cows laid down in the summer every day for 150 years (put a spade in that field, and you'll smell manure, even though there hasn't been a cow here in 30 years).
I even buy these little kits from for my friends and family, just in case.

While the seeds are very important, in some ways they can be the least of a set of issues - we just mentioned skills above, but soil is a big one. For most people trying to climb this not too steep curve, I recommend raised beds (six inches high using 2x6's) using "known good" soil (even if you have to buy it in bags from Home Depot). In fact I also recommend the whole square foot gardening approach especially if you are starting out, it is simple and it is almost a psychological thing for people. Accomplishing the modest weeding of six squares seems to provide 10 times the positive feedback of 20 feet of a row of carrots. I have a small area of my farm where the soil was disturbed to build a bank, this area has 3 inches of top soil (like most suburban lawns from the 60s on). Here I have constructed a raised bed garden including 10x10 foot ones with corn "indian style" (beans, corn, squash all together).

Putting in fruit trees, and soft fruits can also make life more pleasant, rasberries can take over an area once started, blueberry plants can be grown in containers if you like, and fruit trees can easily produce fruit organically in most areas, for pressing, pies, and sauce. This past weekend I helped my friend on his farm to pick and press grapes. We made 900 gallons of juice, at 25% sugar content, my back of envelope said he was getting 1000 lbs of sugar per acre from the worst tobacco burnt out soil in virginia. His grapes and those of Napa are like nothing you eat in the store - so much better. Those 900 gallons will make a lot of hooch.

According to Eliot Coleman in it is still not too late to start your winter garden if you are willing to buy a cheap portable greenhouse (assembles like a tent). I'm trying it this winter, can't get away from dirt under the fingernails.

Lastly if you want to do nothing at all, until they shutdown the grid, or potatoes hit $10 per pound because the Chinese don't want US Dollars anymore, and Special Drawing Rights somehow denominate barrels of oil from whoever is left producing oil. I recommend the seeds above and this book
it is the only book I ever read that runs you through the practical scenarios of having handtools, unknown soil, and some seeds to
ensure that you will produce enough to live (we'll all be a lot less finicky when oil is $200/barrel I'm sure).

Steve Solomon (author of last linked book above) also has a couple of texts on Gutenberg,

Gardening Without Irrigation: or without much, anyway


Organic Gardener's Composting

I would say the most important thing (as in gardening in general) is developing the skills needed to succeed. Practice letting some of your regular planting go to seed to see how long it takes and what kind of success you have. For example I am only just now harvesting carrot seeds from the spring 2008 planting - that's a pretty long wait and I don't even know if they will germinate. Figure out what seeds you can successfully save and select open pollinated varieties when buying seeds.

A good Source is "Gardening when it Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times" by Steve Solomon.

A good Source is "Gardening when it Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times" by Steve Solomon.

Second that. Solomon has some useful stuff on Gutenberg available for free download,

There's some suggestions in the last two from data collected when more food was grown locally of a connection between soil fertility and health that I found interesting.

Moisture and temperature are the issues to long term storage

Yes-A good way to store seed is in paper bags placed in a large "tin can" such as the ones that used to come filled with popcorn-punch lots of very small holes to allow for ventilation and store in a cool dry place-mice and rats can't get thru the metal.Seed stored in a damp place are apt to rot and excessive heat will kill the seed.

Another good and very cheap storage container is a solid steel wall mount cabinet with closely fitted doors.You can buy such cabinets at going out of business sales and flea markets for almost nothing sometimes.If you get a big one you can also store small tools and other odds and ends in it.

Incidentally if you have mice in an area where they have difficulty finding water, you can trap them by placing a water dish in a deep pan with steep sides-they can get in but not out.You can release them elsewhere if you wish.

oldfarmermac, et al,

In your experience, what is "excessive heat"? This is my second year at learning/doing seed saving and am perplexed by the whole storage thing. In winter our basement is cool (upper 45-55º) but can be more humid. Upstairs is dry wood heat ranging from 60-80º. In the summer, when it is hot and humid the basement is much cooler and actually less humid. Obviously, it's hot and humid upstairs in the summer.

I have switched to 6x9 manilla envelops which seem thicker and more durable than paper bags plus have a reusable clasp. But this only works for garden veggies not large volume grains. Right now I'm thinking gallon gars or if I have to plastic buckets. But you've noted to not us plastic - what about glass?

Any other insight on the best practices for storing seed.


For things that make a pod of some sort I just put the pod and a label in a zip-lock bag and sort of macerate it till the seeds separate. Then gather the corner of the bag with the seed and dump out the plant material. I have some small clear glass bottles that I then put the seed and label in.
One thing to be aware of about letting something go to seed is that unless you act promptly you'll have seed scattered all over and have it germinating where you don't want it.

and here's a like to a guy making a thresher from a weed whacker

Somebody else said not to use plastic-we eus plastic buckeys for lots of things and have had no problems with them except if you put something in them that is not throughly dry it may mold due to lack of ventilation.

I don't actually know precisely how much heat or how long it takes to kill seed by accident-any place that does not exceed your local high temperatures by more than ten or fifteen degrees F hould be fine-the only seed we have lost to heat were left in a bag tied to the rafters under a v shaped metal barn roof (it probably hit 140 degrees or more there for extended periods )and some left on a mantel behind a wood stove which used to be kept hot enough you couldn't stand close to it for more than a minute-that was when we lived in an old house that was about as airtight as an average barn.

Unless your basement is excessively damp-the sort of place where paper is always limp- it should be ok and your living space is fine-we store small quantities of seed in a cardboard box kept under a bed in pint and quart canning jars with a few small holes punched in the lid.Larger quantities in salvaged metal cans with vent holes go in the barn - but on shelves, not next to the roof.

This business of storing seed is probably a little overblown -unless the rats and mice and so forth get yours!

Any real problems are more likely to result from storing seed harvested to early or not thoroughly dried before putting them away.

Thanks for your thoughts,

Our basement isn't really that much more humid that the outside with the exception of rainy periods where it is much more humid outside. Usually around 60-80%. It is a walkout basement too. The big difference is when the wood stove is cranking the upstairs humidity get much lower.

The link reads to me that moisture is a bigger factor than temperature, within limits. Seems like for winter storage upstairs (60-80º & 50% humidity) vs the basement (40-60+º & 70% humidity) is better but I should more seeds upstairs when the spring rains start and the stove is not burning as much.

Generally, we are saving seed for the next season so only fall/winter storage should be necessary. I'm sure it would be wise to alway save plenty of our seed for another one or two years in case of more weather catastrophes.

I also wondered about glass jars, getting new envelops every few years may get harder.... Good idea poking little holes.

We store our vegetable seeds (purchased and saved) in a large rectangular plastic box (70 liters or so)which seals tight. To maintain constant low humidity but not too low, we place "activated" indicating silica gel in a canning jar with metal lid which has many holes punched with a nail and hammer(about 8 mm between holes).

Indicating silica gel has an inorganic dye (probably cobalt chloride) incorporated into the crystalline granules. The granules (about 8 to 10 mesh works well)are deep blue when fully dehydrated and turn pale pink or red when hydrated and therefore nor longer effective in removing moisture. The beauty of this drying agent is that it can be reactivated by heating over medium heat in a clean frying pan. You will see "steam" being given off while heating. When it has turned deep blue, cover with aluminum foil and let cool then transfer into the canning jar for reuse. Thus one purchase of silica gel has lasted us 10 years and is still going strong. It is necessary to reactivate the silica gel several times a year depending on how often you open the plastic box.

Large seeds (corn, beans, etc.) are stored in the box in sturdy paper sacks (non plastic coated so they can "breath"). Small seeds (carrot, lettuce, tomato, etc) can be saved in small plastic jars with lid tightly closed. We use jars intended for taking urine samples to be analyzed. We usually leave the lids off small seed containers for several days to dry before closing the lid. Do not over fill small sealed jars because the seeds need access to oxygen to continue to function.

Finally, we store the seed box in the house in summer to keep them cool and in an unheated barn (that does not normally freeze) in winter.

By this method most seeds remain viable several years longer than normally indicated in catalogs. Some our seeds are very expensive purchased from professional seed companies in Holland. As a professional grower we only buy high quality seeds not those sold on seed stands. We do save seeds of certain varieties of vegetables.

Saving Seeds: Is this the way to go?

My two cents? Most definitely.
Every TOD gardener should read a book or two that's been recommended upthread this Winter (for those in the Northern Hemisphere, that is).
My notable victories in seed saving have been volunteers of Sungold tomatoes which breed larger, tastier(hard to believe,I know) and more crack resistant than the parents.
Also I've saved the seed from a fava bean a deceased neighbor had given me from his family in Malta.
The first year I grew it I saved all the best pods for seed.
Each year after, as the plant acclimatized to my region, the plant does better and produces larger, heavier beans.
Two excellent reasons IMO, home gardeners should start saving varieties of plants they like.
Plus many of todays "standards" have come from natural mutations or sports that had more desirable qualities than the parents.

A quibble:

It probably would not be desirable to save hybrid seed, because these do not breed true, and some of the seeds of hybrid plants are not fertile.

This is not an entirely correct statement.
Famed plant geneticist Alan Kapuler of Peace Seeds has made outstanding contributions by dehybridizing hybrid varieties.

Thanks for this great post Gail.

I am glad to get feedback on the potential of using hybrids. "All" of the websites seem to say "stick with open-pollinated", but with so many hybrids around, it is hard to see that that will work. If using offspring of hybrids will work, that will make the task of developing seeds suited to the location much easier to do.

Spaceman and Gail

Whilst I would always recommend to new seed savers that they start with heirloom varieties, experienced gardeners can have a lot of fun with seeds from hybrids. Some years ago I saved and planted some seeds from a supermarket pepper (sweet capsicum, capsicum annuum) and came up with some weird results from the half-dozen plants that I kept. One gave regular peppers, one gave weird long twisted thin peppers, and the rest gave little round, hard fruits on stunted plants.

THe heirloom plants mostly seem to produce similar produce from saved seeds, except where they are strongly wind pollinated, such as corn. Allowing only one variety of a species to seed will generally ensure a reasonable following crop of the chosen variety.

Doing trials is really crucial. Over the years we have probably trialed 75 varieties of tomatoes alone. In mountainous areas such as mine, micro-climates make a huge difference. What works well for me might be a disaster for a neighbor a mile away.

We grow both hybrids and open pollinated varieties depending upon the species. However, I have OP back-ups for the hybrids if it hits the fan. And, of course, we save seed. Been doing it for 30 years.


"What works well for me might be a disaster for a nieghbor a mile away."

Or even a quarter of a mile sometimes.We have about four more weeks on the average of frost free days on a sunny slope near the house(and at about four hundred feet HIGHER elevation!) than we do in a creek bottom a quarter mile away.

The importance of consulting with local farmers and gardeners cannot be overemphasized-at least for the first two or three years if you are new to gardening or growing a new crop for the first time.

If you have just recently moved and don't yet know anybody, the employees of local feed and seed type businesses are pretty good sources of local info.

The seed harvest is coming in now. The beet seed really looks good this year. I am trying to get ahead of the weather and get my kale and chard seed in before it shatters.

I'm gathering the tomatoes as well, ripe and green, before the weather turns. I always grow a lot of different kinds of tomatoes. Every year, I grow some stalwarts and trial new varieties of heirloom tomatoes. I'm looking for tomatoes that do well in my maritime climate and taste good. I save seeds from the good ones. I also get volunteers, and I treasure those if they taste good. Any tomato burly enough to come up in cool spring soils is my kind of vegetable.

Saving seed is like all gardening - reverse plan from what you like to eat. Think about the climate and space available and optimize your growing plan for the best value for you. As suggested above, it does take some homework.

I found that the cool season vegetables and heirloom tomatoes are my best values to grow. I don't have a lot of space. In the shoulder seasons, the value of the garden produce is high right when my income falls off most years. I save seed of things I like to eat. I have at least a dozen varieties each of kale and oriental greens, at this point with their genetics thoroughly mingled. The cole family crops will cross, unlike most lettuces and tomatoes. I find that the leafy greens tolerate abuse the best. Broccoli and cauliflower lose their characteristic tight heads if allowed to cross randomly, but the leafy members of the cabbage family hold up well. My experimental patch of four open pollenated broccoli varieties produced a second generation with really delicious leaves, but no heads. I broke down and bought broccoli seed for next year.

Lettuce, particularly looseleaf lettuce, is easy to save because it doesn't usually cross. I save seed for many things that I am too cheap to buy, leeks, shallots, herbs, tomatillos, etc. The herbs actually produce whole tens of dollars in cash flow. Some things, like lavender, have naturally low germination rates. I plant fresh seed in a nursery bed to over winter and always end up with extra starts to sell.

I wouldn't get too wound up about hybrids. Most things exist in an open pollenated version. It just takes some looking. Once you find the open pollenated version, you can often maintain it yourself. Seed savers are generally very willing to trade. By swapping the seeds around, you maintain the strength of the varieties.

The caveat is that if you are growing and eating what what is local, feasible and in season, some vegetables become as ephemeral as strawberries air freighted from Chile in January. The super sweet gene in modern sweet corn is recessive. Open pollenated corn is sweet right after picking but it doesn't stay sweet on the shelf. Back in the day, sweet corn had a brief season. Corn is also wind-pollenated, so it doesn't do well in little patches. I buy local, organic corn to eat, but I keep working on adapting a short season sweet corn to my garden. One year, I planted several promising varieties and let them cross. They were looking great, and the ducks thought so, too, so no seed to save. I tried again this year and got really lousy germination.

This seed saving thing, it's like all gardening, it takes some practice. I would suggest just starting. Once you have an idea of what you are doing, some of these questions about hybrids and whatnot become non-issues.

Oh, and I wouldn't depend on anybody else to develop seed of a favorite vegetable for the backyard gardener specific to your area. It's an endeavor dominate by amateurs, just because the market is so small. You can just plan on being the change that you want to see in the world.

Hamster, just sitting by the bay breeding those beets

Open pollenated corn is sweet right after picking but it doesn't stay sweet on the shelf.

Field corn. If you prepare a boiling pot of water, then make a quick dash to a corn field that your yard borders, quickly shuck it, and them dump it in the already boiling pot it turns out pretty well.

I grew Bantam (open-pollinated, from Fedco Seeds) this past summer. It was early, dealt well with cool weather, kept just fine in the fridge, and was delicious - actually more complex flavor than the Peaches and Cream that is the standard at the farmers' market. Didn't save seeds though - should have! Also, the ears filled well despite the fact that I had a small patch (15 plants at most).

I grew something else too (Lancelot, maybe, hybrid I think) - not a single ear filled well and I had maybe 25 plants. Right next to the Bantam, too.

Definitely learning to save seeds is the way to go. I am told many of the gardening seeds we have now (Johnny's Selected Seeds and such) are actually produced in China, adding another level of complexity to our multilayered foreign dependencies.

"The beet seed really looks good this year. I am trying to get ahead of the weather and get my kale and chard seed in before it shatters."

Here is an example of what is being discussed ....

Beets and Chard cross so you will/may get something other than the beet you planted

jmygann, thank you, excellent point.

The chard is well separated from the beet breeding project.

The chard is descended from Five Color. The commercial growers maintain the colors as separate strains and mix them in the package. It's great fun to grow, and it's popular with market gardeners. I tried to get my own mix through genetic diversity, by allowing the five colors to go to seed together in a patch. I just grew a few plants of the F1 this year, the first year of growing out the result, and I got all red chard.

Ah well, it's all fun and it tasted just fine. If I was really motivated, I would grow out lots of the F1 and some of them would get the pink and orange colors back from the recessive genes. But that would be way too much chard, not to mention way too much like work.


My wife who tends the veggie garden orders biologically, organically grown seeds online. We have a plot at a biological community garden were artificial fertilizers, pesticides etc. are not allowed. Members exchange plants and seeds. I don't think it's much of an issue for us personally, as we have this for a decade, and my father (who passed away 6 years ago) was gardenin there for over 30 years. The only thing that seems to be problematic in the future is the age of the tenants; my wife is the youngest, being 36. I'll give my 2 cents to the discussion questions.

1. It's very important. Not just because industrial ag. will have problems. They have already. It's very important for health and taste alike.

2. The limited seed saving we did hasn't been difficult. For vegetables just let 1 or 2 plants untouched untill they bloom, eat the others before that. Store dry, cool and dark.


4. No idea

5. No idea

6. It's not a given that non-hybrid has lower yields. Just need some more care (weeding, pest removing, manure)

it is very easy to get anal about this seed stuff and gardening. For the novice out there. Go to your local grocery store to the isle that has the dried beans. pick up a small bag of your favorite beans, at a very reasonable price by the lb. Me i like cowpeas or black eyed peas, navy beans, red beans. These beans have been a staple of rural areas for centuries. Go home find a small sunny spot in your fancy flower bed, pull back the mulch, scratch the soil back a little with your finger, tuck a couple of those seeds into the three inch cleared space, cover with about a half inch soil, water, and let nature do the work. i always carry a few of these peas in my pockets and anytime I see a vacant spot i plant one. Do this and you are on the way to an edible landscape. If the spot happens to be in your wife's flower bed she will not mind because the pea bloom is one of natures real beauties. In about 60 to ninety days the beans will magically develop and make a tasty treat. This stuff ain't really that hard. This method of getting started is recommended for beginners who don't really know if they want to get into gardening and are fearful of failure. You don't have to tell your neighbors what you are doing, tear up your lawn, or purchase a lot of equipment. Warning! Gardening is addictive.

I tore up my front lawn to plant a mix of edibles, herbs and regular flowers. I've ended up being pretty successful with dandelions too. It was fustrating until I saw dandelion leaves imported from Mexico for sale at an upscale market at $6 per pound.
Yeesh. Perhaps I'll just harvest dandelions - they are pretty rich in vitamins and minerals, and not too bitter if picked young.
I made dandelion wine for the first time this spring, from the flower heads. Almost ready to drink...

Yep. Beans rule. Man, if you can't grow beans, you'll never make it with anything else.


One thing that hasn't been observed. Quite a few plants seem to seed themselves and grow happily in my 7 year old garden. I,ve got quite good crops of lettuce, tomatoes and potatoes that just put themselves there from previous years or from compost or bird vectors. Found a patch of purple king beans when we were doing the spring weeding last week, they grew out of season from a few plants that self seeded a few feet away the year before that came from an experimental aquaponic bean crop in '07. They were a good feed. I am hoping that vegetables become my new weeds eventually.

I have simple policy of constantly crossing varieties and collecting the seeds from plants that get good results, and so on.... every year. Works for me - so far. Potatoes are a problem that barrett just solved for me. Thanks barrett.

Experimenters may be interested in this,

The Ukranian Ilona sounds like it may be of interest.

Potato seeds provide one of my favorite low work gardening methods. I have a handful of potato fruits, the green cherry tomato looking balls, collected while harvesting potatoes today. I just plant them in a spot where it would be nice to have some have some new potatoes next spring. They just sit there all winter and volunteer when the ground warms up.

I live in a moderate winter area. I don't know how well this works in areas with hard freezes. But if tomatoes volunteer for you, it's worth a try.

There's been some discussion of hybrids vs open pollinated varieties.

For anyone who forgot Biology 101 (and I was one of them), refer to this link to Mendel's Laws:-

"Mendel's Laws
The principles of heredity were written by the Augustinian monk Gregor Mendel in 1865. Mendel discovered that by crossing white flower and purple flower plants, the result was not a offspring. Rather than being a mix of the two, the offspring was purple flowered. He then conceived the idea of heredity units, which he called "factors", one which is a recessive characteristic and the other dominant. Mendel said that factors, later called genes, normally occur in pairs in ordinary body cells, yet segregate during the formation of sex cells. Each member of the pair becomes part of the separate sex cell. The dominant gene, such as the purple flower in Mendel's plants, will hide the recessive gene, the white flower. After Mendel self-fertilized the F1 generation and obtained the 3:1 ratio, he correctly theorized that genes can be paired in three different ways for each trait; AA, aa, and Aa. The capital A represents the dominant factor and lowercase a represents the recessive. (The last combination listed above, Aa, will occur roughly twice as often as each of the other two, as it can be made in two different ways, Aa or aA.)

Parent AA x aa
Gamete A A a a
Combinations AA Aa aA aa (first generation or F1)

Mendel stated that each individual has two factors for each trait, one from each parent. The two factors may or may not contain the same information. If the two factors are identical, the individual is called homozygous for the trait. If the two factors have different information, the individual is called heterozygous. The alternative forms of a factor are called alleles. The genotype of an individual is made up of the many alleles it possesses. An individual's physical appearance, or phenotype, is determined by its alleles as well as by its environment. An individual possesses two alleles for each trait; one allele is given by the female parent and the other by the male parent. They are passed on when an individual matures and produces gametes: egg and sperm. When gametes form, the paired alleles separate randomly so that each gamete receives a copy of one of the two alleles. The presence of an allele doesn't promise that the trait will be expressed in the individual that possesses it. In heterozygous individuals the only allele that is expressed is the dominant. The recessive allele is present but its expression is hidden.

Mendel summarized his findings in two laws; the Law of Segregation and the Law of Independent Assortment"

If the characteristic you are selecting for is dominant, you have a pretty good chance of getting what you want in the hybrid offspring. If it is recessive, not.

You'd have to breed a number of generations to figure that out. If I were relying an a plant for food, I'd want to be pretty sure I knew what would come up.

EDIT : My concern with many modern hybrids is that they have been bred to encourage recessive characteristics. Petunias are a good example. Those big, beautiful flowers in all the fancy colors. If you let those go to seed, the next year you get small flowers, in only a couple of colors - pink, purple or white, usually. Small flowers must be the dominant.
If you have a hybrid tomato with the big, beautiful fruits, the recessive, and let those go to seed, the next year you get a lot of small tomatoes - small being the dominant. Flavor might still be excellent, though, and, hopefully, we can lose the nastiness of "bred for cold storage", where size, color and firmness is selected over taste.

Thanks Gail for posting this important, fundamental food issue. I can help you with Questions 1, 3, and 6:

1 and 3. Immediately!!!! Fortunately, there people in Australia who took this issue seriously 25 years ago when the 'Green Revolution' was in full swing. The Seedsavers network (Jude and Michelle Fanton) has been acting on the danger of industrial food production by networking nationally and internationally.

6. IMO, yields will be lower. However, the good news is that plants from non-hybrid seeds adapted to a particular area will have more resilience to pests and disease-especially if they are companion planted with other plants that will give them protection. Companion planting has been going on throughout artificially chemical free, organic cultivation history.

My partner and I have just rented some land to begin the recall process while we disentangle ourselves from the wage slave beast then heading upcounty to get on with the real job.

Someone without an Oil Drum account e-mailed me this comment:

First off, I wouldn't assume hybrid seeds will give you better yields. Plants do benefit from the phenomenon known as "hybrid vigor" where the first generation hybrid doesn't suffer many of the problems that a pure bred cultivar may have. But the wonderful thing about saved seeds is that they benefit from the selection of traits making them successful in your specific situation. Natural selection is working to your advantage. If instead you purchase new seed each year, you do not gain this benefit. Buying heirloom or open pollinated seeds is important because it makes the process of seed saving more successful (at least for the first couple years) but unless you are growing a variety specific to your region, the real benefit comes when you start growing with your own saved seed. (A big piece of heirloom seed's appeal is that a wide variety of traits are available as opposed to modern seeds where a handful of characteristics have been identified as ideal and that's what you get. Tomatoes in particular have incredible variation as opposed to the three options you get at the supermarket - beefstake, vine ripened and roma.)

As for the specific questions you raised:

1. How important is it that we start thinking about this question now, rather than when industrial agriculture starts having problems?

Very. Although, the important thing is to start gardening. The question of where your seeds come from is an excellent one but having a successful garden will make issues like seed saving that much easier to address. One of the most important pieces to gardening that most people miss is that it's all about the soil. If you have healthy and vibrant soil then everything else is incredibly easy. A garden, once established, will do quite well with a minimum of effort. An excellent primer on gardening from this philosophy can be found here:

I ran the salient concepts behind her techniques by a friend who was in a PhD program for soil ecology and she told me this fits perfectly with the current understanding.

So if you don't already, start gardening. Once you are gardening, experiment with saving seeds but if you are uncomfortable with your abilities don't rely on it. I'm sure you will be looking at seed catalogues with a view of adding to your seed collection in no time (rather than starting from scratch each year).

2. What experiences do people have with seed saving?

A lot and a little all at once. I started saving seed about 20 years ago as a kind in my mom's garden collecting lupine seeds. If you recognize that seed saving isn't some mystical art but the act of growing plants starting from a fruit rather than a seed packet, suddenly it gets a lot less daunting. Everyone who has ever sprouted an avocado pit has done "seed saving". Accidental seed saving coming about from spitting watermelon seeds into a garden or having winter squash sprout out of your compost is some of the most rewarding (because you don't have to do any work). I've saved seeds from maybe 30 or 40 different varieties of plants with the vast majority of them having outstanding results.

3. Are there any particularly good resources that people can recommend in this area?

The site has resources for both the home scale and small scale commercial seed producers. It provides both general information and details specific to certain common families of plants. Also, the video I linked to above has some good pointers on seed saving in it's easiest form - letting plants reseed themselves into your garden. Similarly, you can take fruits (like squash, melons, tomatoes, etc.) and bury them in your garden to sprout in the spring. This approaches not only save you the effort of saving seeds (collect, clean, label and store) but also of planting. When the time is right, they will sprout and you will get plants. My favorite gardening techniques are the ones which require me to do less work.

4. How does one avoid problems with pollination with hybrids?

The problem isn't just cross pollination with hybrids but cross pollination with any variety different than what you are trying to save which will result in hybrid seed. The link above provides information on spacing and some useful techniques for avoiding hybridization. A question worth asking is why you are trying to avoid hybridization. If you are producing for your own consumption, issues of consistency become unimportant. If you have enough space that you can over plant (maybe 20-30%) and cull the plants that aren't behaving well (not a bad idea anyway) then some cross pollination won't be that big a deal. If you have a block of a single variety, any cross pollination will be minimal because regardless of the pollination method (wind or animal) the likely pollen source will be the closest pollen source (not necessarily true for plants with male and female flowers which open at different times - like squash and melons). But is it really that big of a deal if you plant an acorn squash and end up with a pumpkin?

Introducing genes from outside of your population can be a good thing. In Mexico, corn farmers will sometimes plant corn near teosinte (the wild ancestor) so there will be some cross pollination, introducing wild genes into their strains of corn.

5. Are there any particular issues we should be aware of with grains? I have heard that nearly all corn is hybrid, for example.

You can buy open pollinated and heirloom corn. Southern exposure seed exchange is a source I know of (, they specialize in seeds well suited for the mid-atlantic region of the US but if you're struggling to find a more local source they would work just fine. Corn is unique in that the male and female reproductive portions are located on different parts of the plant. This makes cross pollination for hybrid seed production very easy, they simply cut off the pollen containing tops of one variety and plant it close to the variety they want it to cross with. All of the cut plants will produce hybrid seed.

Any other grain will be prohibitively difficult / expensive to produce hybrid seed for and therefore all seed will be open pollinated.

6. It is quite possible that yields will be lower, with non-hybrid seed. Should this deter us from studying the issue, and developing greater supplies of open-pollinated seeds suited to particular areas of the country?

I guess I jumped the gun on answering this question, so I'll answer it differently. Hybridization (like GMO seeds) is a piece of the homogenization of agriculture. We mass produce hybrid seeds to plant in tilled fields where everything has been chemically killed and the "proper" nutrient balance has been achieved through testing and massive application of fertilizer. The idea is that you shouldn't be able to tell the difference between a tomato grown in California, China or Chile. Modern agriculture views the soil as a substrate and regional variations as an inconvenience. Sustainable agriculture should view the soil as a living organism with a value far greater than the crops that grow on it because the health and fertility take years to build up and ultimately determines the success of any given crop.

So will the yields of open pollinated versus hybrid seeds grown side by side in either a chemical or sustainable agricultural field be different? Possibly but I can't give you an intelligent prediction of which will do better. The important thing is that the sustainable garden should be able to far out produce a commercial agricultural operation. Even more important is that the sustainable garden is sustainable and will still be churning out great quantities of produce and grains long after the industrial farms have collapsed because their fertility is destroyed and requiring chemical inputs far too expensive because of oil and natural gas prices.

I would also add that some studies have found that the uptake of nutrients such as Boron in hybrid corn has been quite low...

Hybrid seed tends to be more expensive, and in England anyway most seed (98%) comes from outside the country, from places like the US, Israel, Australia with quite dissimilar climates to our own!

This brings up another side to "food security", if our constant supply of hybrid seeds dries up will we have time to dehybridise and produce enough seed?

Whatever happens to industrial agriculture, it would be foolish not to go to great lengths to preserve as much biodiversity as possible, especially now with the threat of climate change.
So I don't think one needs to be a doomer to answer Gail's #1.

There are legal issues with seed distribution in Europe unfortunately. TPTB are trying to stamp out diversity.
Is there any repression in your country?

There are legal issues with seed distribution in Europe unfortunately. TPTB are trying to stamp out diversity.
Is there any repression in your country?

Of course, in Iraq, one of the Bremmer directives made it illegal to save seed. Gosh, it's almost like Blackwater works for Monsanto.

There is a more destructive force on this planet that far outweighs the damage caused by climate change - COMMERCE!
An all too sad example of this is the importation of the emerald ash tree borer to the Upper Midwest USA... in shipping crates from Asia.
Science is now fighting to save seed from this vanishing species.

An amazing book on this subject is Raoul Robinson's "Return to Resistance", which is available as a free download. Saving seed allows you to do Darwinian (as opposed to Mendelian) breeding, which is more robust because it selects for broad resistance to many threats, rather than for specific genes. Robinson recommends the breeding of resistant varieties by local breeding clubs, but nearly the same thing can be accomplished by seed saving. He tells a fascinating story about how Kenyan farmers bred resistance to a maize rust when plant geneticists had been unable to do so. Their only breeding method was saving seeds as they had always done. I have been growing maize in this way for three years, starting with a wide variety of open pollinated heirloom seed. So far the results have been excellent. I used to worry about contamination from nearby hybrid crops, but then I realized that if the genes helped the corn survive, they would stick around, and if not they would be discarded. Right now the crop is a kaleidoscopic blend of colors and shapes, but I expect it to stabilize at some point into a variety that is highly adapted to my local conditions and farming methods.

Most of our "heirloom" OP varieties came from a specific region. People in that region didn't have to worry about cross-pollination, because everyone in that region grew the same thing - what they grew was THEIR variety, and they may not have even been aware that different varieties existed. It wasn't like they intentionally set out to develop a particular variety, either. The variety that ended up being particular to their region just reflected the gene pool that happened to be in that region in the first place. Seed saving was thus an easier proposition for peoples in traditional cultures. They simply grew the one variety that existed in their area, and saved some seeds, and replanted.

Now, of course, and thanks to the transportation networks that FF have made possible, we have become accustomed to having a wide range of varieties of every cultivated species available for our enjoyment. This has been nice, but is it sustainable once the FF goes away, and those transport networks become attenuated to a very large extent?

Implicit in the discussion on this thread is the assumption that maintaining a wide range of varieties of each cultivated species, not just in each region but even in each garden, is a desirable thing. I would like to challenge this assumption. It just might be too much trouble to be worth the effort. My guess is that maintaining multiple varieties of a species is one of those things that eventually will go by the wayside. Gardeners will eventually just settle on the one variety of each species that does best for them. After a few generations, the number of varieties available in any given area will dwindle, and the inevitable cross-pollination will eventually result in a single variety being grown in each area - a variety that is particularly well-adapted to local conditions.

This (what I consider to be inevitable) tendency will be helped along by the likelihood that, at least initially, seed saving is something that will be done by a few local specialists and not everybody. As bringing things in from a distance becomes increasingly difficult and expensive, people will increasingly come to rely more on local seed suppliers. These will only carry a few of the best-adapted local varieties, and eventually few will narrow down to just one.

I have to disagree. Weather year to year is so variable you have to grow a variety of each species. This summer has been cool in Boulder and I have only had success with vegetables that tolerate cool conditions. Other summers, these same varieties failed miserably. I've had not a single melon - most summers they sort of grow themselves. Spring was uncharacteristically wet. The performance of three different varieties of beans was stunningly different - one literally was eaten up by God knows what, and another was untouched, inches away. What I am not doing enough of is keeping track of which is which.

If I were trying to survive on what I grow, I would always plant 3 to 5 varieties of each species.

And this doesn't even take into account differing nutritional attributes. We are forgetting that humans used to survive on 10s of thousands of plants (maybe not in each locality, but still...), and now we think about 200 different plants is "variety", which for most people boil down to wheat, corn and soy.

Locally adapted also is going to mean different things. We have a local farm, Abbondanza Seeds and Produce that sells locally adapted seeds, but do they water as rarely as I do? So saving your own makes a lot of sense, and you can rely on local seed banks to fill in for crop failures. Also, I like vegetables that do not require vigilance - the Soleil beans that just sat on the vine for a couple of weeks waiting for me to get around to picking them were invaluable! Anything that goes seedy and stringy overnight is useless to me.

If you are really serious about food survival , you need to decide which grain seed you are going to base your diet on.

Dry Corn , and Wheat are the most common. Corn being the most easy to grow and store (for seed and food).

To test the grain(seeds) for viable food nutrients ... see if they germinate.

for me .. its Corn .. select seed from the most robust productive plants each year

Corn's nutritional value is increased by making it into hominy using wood ashes.
Of course then you need to learn how to turn wood ashes into lye

So much to re-learn, so little time.

"But over the very long term, it is not entirely clear that we will be able to keep up this system."

My question is how long is "very long term"? 5, 10, 50, 100, 1000 years?

I would say that if more than 50 years, individuals would not need to be too concerned saving seed for themselves except to save money. But "society" would need to ensure the survival of diversity, and there are several specialist gardening groups that interested people can join or support that keep catalogs of seeds. Diversity obviously, to me at any rate, would cover seed in the wild also, so easily made extinct by human activity. If the human population gets too large, nature won't have much room to develop further diversity.

Seeds? Who needs'em? Why not slip tomatoes?

Last year I realized that tomato plants develop roots off their stems when a branch lays on the ground. So, I cut several branches off a Brandywine tomato, stuck them in water over the winter, and they grew huge and large numbers of hairy roots. I planted them, and they yielded tomatoes. Same plant; therefore no concern about cross-breeding.

However, for me this was a lousey gardening year in general, and those plants didn't yield well or many.
See my whine about this in my latest blog entry:

So I'm not sure whether the weather was to blame, or whether the technique of slipping is to blame. Does anybody know?

-Bob Boeri

So I'm not sure whether the weather was to blame, or whether the technique of slipping is to blame. Does anybody know?

I'll guess weather. A potential problem with slipping is mentioned upthread, is accumulation of disease and viruses when a living piece of plant has to be kept for next years crop. Every time a cut happens a few extra pathogens are probably picked up.

Oversized tomato plant at Epcot.

Sounds like too much N in the fertilizer.
Almost always the culprit when top growth is abundant but no fruit.

Great thread Gail. Jason Bradford and I did some research and analysis on crop diversity for a talk a few weeks ago and came away with some hard numbers on the status of monocropping in the U.S.:

- 45% of the cropland in the U.S. is covered by either GMO Corn or Soy.
- Over the last decade, Corn has gone from 25% GMO to 85% GMO, and Soy has gone from 54% to 91% GMO. These two crops alone cover 52% of U.S. cropland.

My degree is in biochemistry and molecular biology, so for me the issue isn't about being for or against GMO crops, as genetic engineering is just a tool (like fire) with good and bad uses (I have other concerns but that's not the point of this post). The issue here is the stunning loss of diversity of the gene pool.

Why does this matter? Well, the handful of varieties growing today represent a very narrow slice of genes that have been selected for 1) Maximum yield in 2) today's temperature ranges and 3) today's precipitation ranges with 4) today's pests and 5) resistance to today's pesticides, and 6) ease of manufacturing/production by seed companies and 7) much more. The thousands of genes in millions of combinations optimized for each microregion have now been replaced with a handful of hyper-optimized varieties.

Ten years ago, if any of these factors changed for corn production, we would have had many seed companies and 75% of the corn acreage that was not GMO to find old genes that work for the new conditions. Today, that genetic variety is lost...we have no idea the wealth of genes that have now gone extinct that took nature millions of years to create.

Agriculture is already experience climate change, and change will continue (not necessarily in one direction all the time, but increased magnitude of change is a given). What we have now is a situation where 45% of our cropland growing crops that a relatively minor change in conditions could wipe out.

And we have no reserves and no backup plan.

Here's the slide we used in the presentation:

Craig Wichner

This is the graph you linked to:

I would really rather there were a much greater diversity of crops.

We are also raising a huge number of cows and pigs, and using these crops to feed them. It seems like the animals grown need to be smaller in number, and adapted to the areas in question. It would be better for our health if the animals were eating grass or hay or local weeds, rather than all of the grain.

It seems like both the plants grown and the animals grown needs some serious rethinking.

I am preparing my ASPO talk and will get into this more then.

One of the changes that occurred with animal production is the feedlot. Feedlots work with the cheap corn and soy and the cheap oil. As land prices near cities went up, pasture land that was used for local dairy and meat production was sold off to developers.

Enter the feedlot industry with cheap feed and transportation. Feedlots moved to places with low land costs and little regulation. Many animals don't see grass anymore. They are being bred to be more tolerant of the grain diet too, but this is tough since it goes against a long period of rumen evolution, hence toxic ecoli outbreaks.

There are institutions trying to preserve heritage livestock and plant cultivars. Some of this happens at universities and government research stations and non-profits. But it is difficult to replace the dynamics and selection that occurs on real farms spread geographically around the whole US (world). Basics of ecological genetics tells us this is withering away the genetic heritage in those cultivars and breeds.

The other problem is that the meat has much more fat in it, and the fat that is in it is saturated fat with little Omega 3s. If the cattle were grass fed, there would be less total fat, and more Omega 3s.

Very true, and this also goes for chickens, turkeys, pigs, etc;

Hybrids aren't always the answer for small scale production. I grew Sungold, which is a popular hybrid cherry tomato, this year. I had mostly cracked tasty gold cherry tomatoes. I rely on rain and dew catchment as much as possible, and the Sungolds must need consistent irrigation. My heirloom yellow cherry tomatoes from the former Iron Curtain countries (Czech yellow cherry, Galina's yellow cherry) were fine. They are good enough that people call me and ask for starts.

One note, start early looking for your seeds for next year. The small mom and pop companies have been just overrun with orders. Heirloom seeds were getting hard to find by January, 2009.

Gail, here's a seed saving how to video.

I'm even in it.


Actually, the link works fine, even though you can't see it all. Nice video showing how to save tomato seeds! Thanks!

I'll delete the duplicates. (Saying "uff-da" makes you sound like a Norwegian. I don't know what people from other backgrounds without such a useful word.)

My experiences:

Tomatoes: Every year I plant some commercial seeds (Roma, Big Boy, whatever) and also take some of the hundreds of volunteers that come up from last year's fallen fruit and grow those. From the volunteers I have always gotten a huge number of tomatoes but they are always smallish- from cherry to tennis ball size. Flavor varies too, but is always good. No, tomatoes will not cross pollinate with deadly nightshade.

Banana Squash: This is an heirloom variety I have been growing for almost 20 years. For most of a decade, saved seeds always germinated and bred true. 3 years ago my germination rate was zero and I needed to start over last year with bought seeds. This year the fruit of those seeds did not breed true, and I ended up with squmpkins. I don't think my neighbor's garden had pumpkins in it, but it could have, he grows so much!

Grain Amaranth: First year for this. I tried some Golden Giant and some Hartman's Giant. You really must try this! Stunningly beautiful 7 foot tall plants with hundreds of thousands of seeds from a seed the size of a broccoli seed. I'm saving some seed back from feeding to my chickens to plant next year. I tried germinating some already and the golden giant will germinate readily but the Hartman's giant has not yet.

My garden is in Minnesota, if that's pertinent.

I'm a long time lurker and first want to thank all of the long time contributors to this site.

Many great points have already been posted here but I would like to reinforce a few and add a few of my own. (I have been actively seedsaving as a part of my gardening for over ten years.)

Steve Solomon's "Gardening When It Counts" is a great resource and he has many insights that are pertinent to today's discussion. The last section of his book goes into detail on many commonly grown vegetable crops; the chapter starts with those that are easiest to grow, describes their growing requirements, and give guidelines for the number of plants of that variety that need to be grown to maintain a viable population.

For example, his number 1 easiest-to-grow/most nutrious garden crop is kale. It will grow in most non-tropical climates, has nutrition similar to that of broccoli, but requires only about 15 healthy individual plants to save seeds from to fend off inbreeding depression.

Another good source for free information about seedsaving are the websites of seed companies devoted to open pollinated seeds. Three that come to mind are

If you are growing outbreeding vegetables that require a fairly large population and are worried about not having a large enough population in your own garden, there are a few seed sources that will sell you mixed populations of open pollinated seeds. Two are

These are organizations or seed companies that do a lot of open pollinated plant breeding. You can order some seed packets with a diverse population of corn, melon, squash, etc. and then either grow a small number of these to let them cross with your own variety, or just save the seeds in case TSHTF and you lose access to other seed savers.

Be flexible and try out new vegetables, or use old favorites in new ways.

I experienced the problems that others noted above with trying to save seed potatoes. It just doesn't work in a hot climate like mine. So I started growing Rutabaga!! It is basically a Kale with a big, nutritious root. The leave are quite edible--great in stir fries and soups. The roots are very nutritious and store well in the garden all winter, but they are an acquired taste. They also make an easy-to-grow feed for chickens, goat, and other livestock.

Like Kale, you only need to save seed from about 15 healthy individual plants to keep up a healthy population. Kale is one of the plants in the broccoli family that is mostly inbreeding. (It's also very tolerant to both hot and cold weather, and has a large root system that makes it fairly drought tolerant.)

I love snow peas, but they are hard to grow in my hot climate. So I've tried many different varieties of the common snap/string bean looking for those that make a good substitute. I've found some that are quite sweet and good to eat raw when young. (But I still miss my snow peas.)

Happy gardening.


I know rutabaga I buy in the store comes from Canada, so it never occurred to me that it would also grow in warm areas. There are a lot of things to find out about!

Save early, save often, luck has a lot to do with it. If the seed companies are sold out, a great place to get seeds is from... your food. Yes, simply go to the farmer's market and select the organic produce you want to grow. Then, harvest the seeds to save and grow them yourself. My favorite is tomatoes.

Just because a tomato is grown organically doesn't mean it is non-hybrid and will grow true. "Organic" refers to growing method.

From the electronic code of federal regulations related to organic practice for seeds:-

"Excluded methods. A variety of methods used to genetically modify organisms or influence their growth and development by means that are not possible under natural conditions or processes and are not considered compatible with organic production. Such methods include cell fusion, microencapsulation and macroencapsulation, and recombinant DNA technology (including gene deletion, gene doubling, introducing a foreign gene, and changing the positions of genes when achieved by recombinant DNA technology). Such methods do not include the use of traditional breeding, conjugation, fermentation, hybridization, in vitro fertilization, or tissue culture."

Hybridization is gained by crossing two dissimilar strains together. That is a good thing and promotes genetic diversity as well as allowing one to produce a superior offspring. In theory it actually creates genetic diversity. Monoculture is not such a good thing. Always planting the same hybrid over a large area allows a disease to adapt to that particular crop and wipe it all out. It also leaves it susceptible to the same environmental stress. (If you plant a high yield corn that requires a lot of water, you could be wiped out by a drought).

Planting the offspring of hybrids actually promotes genetic diversity. The recombinants, if they survive, will be dissimilar from the parent. The children of hybridization are often less fertile, but you may actually unearth a desirable, or undesirable, characteristic by using these F2s. (Parents of hybrid corn are P1, hybrid is F1, next generation is F2.)

However, folks that like getting some of the historic strains of corn should also like trying to grow some F2s. If they grow, they are likely to be less homogeneous than the parents.

"We likely won't have the commercial fertilizer, nearly as much irrigation, and probably not chemical pesticides and herbicides. "

Some answers to these problems: 'Integrated Pest Management' techniques; rabbit and chicken manure [probably 'the humanure handbook' too for later use]; LARGE storm water storage systems; and weed prevention techniques....

What I will miss most is the bottle of commercial b.t. for controlling fungus diseases in a hot humid climate. I guess the 30%sour skim milk mixture will be the substitute.

This is a fabulous thread for seed/annual info. For beginner gardeners I also strongly recommend loading up on perennial edibles.

Some suggestions for edible perennials :-

Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus)
Groundnut (Apios americana)
Daylily (Hemerocallis sp)
Perennial Onion (Allium sp)
Hardy Kiwi (Actinidia sp)
Pawpaw (Asiminia triloba)

Info :-

Sources :-

sodium bicarb works well too, as well as seaweed extract..

I don't suppose we could humble ourselves and ask all the subsistence farmers of the world who feed themselves how they do it?

By working thier butts off from daylight till dark mostly seems to be the main part of the correct answer.

But if you have ample land you can probably use thier methods and only work your butt off maybe half the time or less.

That's still more work imo than the average person accustomed to modern western society will do unless actually starving.

The thing is that subsistence farming worked for 10,000 years and modern farming is failing after 200 years. We have pumped out the reservoirs, eroded land, used up soil fertility (here in Alabama I heard there was 5 feet of top soil, now most everything is red clay). Western society is in for a big shock and wishing we didn't have to go back to hard work won't save us from that fate. At any rate we won't need workout gyms anymore.

Meanwhile lots of subsistence farmers who worked hard for their own livelihood have been displaced as we take modern farming to their countries. Now they work hard mining copper etc so we can be lazy. Bout time we worked hard.

Agreed-but I would be dead by now if I had to work that hard.

There's a strong whiff of Marie Antoinette about all of this: growing vegetables is under some circumstances fun, learning about the techniques for growing vegetables has the fun that learning any useful skill does, but the greatest contribution to human happiness worldwide in the last century has come from getting starving peasants off the land.

If business as usual ends, it will end with the four horsemen, Famine foremost; it will end with thermonuclear war; people with the misfortune to live in the major Western nations will be mostly incinerated, and the origin of their vegetable seeds is irrelevant at that point. The question is what can be done to keep BAU running: the nuclear-powered desalination that's required once the aquifers start to run dry is probably the largest capital lump (and peak fossil water is, I reckon, a more serious problem than peak fossil fuel; there is a lot of coal, but there are hundreds of millions of people who will have to move or die when the aquifers run dry).

You're writing bucolic fantasy: I can't imagine circumstances in which the world is so screwed that there's not enough available fuel to run the Haber process, but sufficiently non-screwed that people are still permitted to attempt to grow their own vegetables under their own command on their own land. Notes about prying it from cold dead fingers, maybe, but many armies have shown many times that cold, dead fingers are readily arranged.

Hi Y'all,

Another good read is Peter Donelan's Growing to Seed.

"the greatest contribution to human happiness worldwide in the last century has come from getting starving peasants off the land."
Is this a joke? Where did you get such an idea from?
When people have access to land they can usually get by, it's when their land is deforested/taken that they become just another pair of hands in the city..
This idea that peasants could never develop new ag techniques and were constantly starving has been used since the enclosures to justify stealing peoples land.
What a bizarre statement.

It is not in the slightest a joke; every step the world takes in the abolition of subsistence farming is a step forward for human happiness. By definition, subsistence farmers don't get to develop new agricultural techniques, because by definition they can't afford the risk. Research requires surplus capital, and the best devices yet designed for concentrating surplus human capital are cities.

It's an insult to all that humanity stands for to suggest that it's better for humans to plant and to weed than for machines (designed by the grandsons of starving peasants), that it's preferable to fertilise plants with hepatitis-laden human shit than with ammonium phosphate (made in a factory eight thousand miles away designed by the daughters and welded together by the sons of starving peasants), that there's some merit in planting crops that worms eat rather than crops with their genome engineered, and not by peasants, so that their leaves kill worms. Famine is a mighty enemy, pretty close to conquered, and what seems to be being counselled here is surrender.

Wherever you look, if there are welcoming cities to move to, even if peasants don't have enough formal rights to their land to be able to sell it for a grub-stake in the city, people move to the city; pretty much any life is better than subsistence farming, and it is vastly better to be a pair of hands in the city, with a roof over your head, two square meals a day and the freedom of the crowd, than a spare daughter on a farm in the depths of the Chinese interior.


I understand where you're coming from and for most of my life would have agreed with you -I still do , in many respects.

But the issue here is not a voluntary return to the ways of the past-there is considerable reason to think that we may have little choice in the matter.On this site there is substantial agreement among the regulars that many tens of millions of people may very well be COMPELLED to grow a substantial part of thier own food if for no other reason than that they may be very short of employment and therefore money.

Some regulars believe with good reason that there may be an economic collapse and that growing most or all of your own food might literally be a matter of life and death.

I point this out because apparently you are a newcomer to the site and appear to lack any knowledge of the reason for this article being on the site.Stick around-you will find lots of useful info and people here!


Probably the ultimate survival food. In Maine, dry beans have been a staple crop with hundreds of varieties from the past. Open pollinated, multi purpose, storable, sproutable, selectable.

I've been given more different varieties of heirloom bush, pole, green & dry beans, favorites from local growers, than any other vegetable seed. I think there will be no issue with preserving and sharing this food regardless of what the situation is.

They can be hand picked, are easy to cultivate, and even the pole and green bean varieties can be dried for soup, baking and for sprouting.

The bean seed itself has a high Carb & Protein content, and in the event there is a shortage of fresh vegetables, beans can be sprouted to create a terrific source of vitamins and minerals...practically a complete food.

Grow them, eat them green, harvest and dry them...use them, sprout them and replant them.

This means lentils, garbanzos, blackeyes, tepary and every other legume, too.


Read "Tortilla Flat" by Steinbeck?

Also called, I believe, love-grass or switch-grass in the US.

(for miscellaneous reasons, when things reach the point that we all have to farm,
I won't be participating ... I just have one small piece of info to pass on)

Wheat is subject to leaf rust, stem rust, and other problems.
As pointed out above, its just wiser not to rely on only one or two crops.
Tef, the staple grain in Ethiopia, has much smaller seeds
("taffa" means "lost" in Amharic)
good flavor and nutrition, decent yield, grows well in semi-arid conditions and high altitudes.